If Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was hoping to ease into his new job as chief executive of California, he was sorely mistaken.
Newsom had planned to discuss housing and homelessness issues at a press conference this morning in downtown San Francisco, before inviting the press to watch him serve lunch to homeless and low-income residents of the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
But last night’s mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, the most deadly in state history since 14 people were killed in San Bernardino in 2015, has forced Newsom to confront his first crisis as governor-elect.
“The response cannot just be excuses, the response sure as hell cannot be more guns,” he told the assembled press at St. Anthony’s, a Franciscan foundation that provides meals, clothing and social services to those in need. He declined to go into the specifics about what an appropriate response would be until more is known about the details of the shooting. But he did say the state “can do more and do better.”
The Legislature “has gotten a lot done on gun safety, and they’ve got a governor who wants to raise the bar,” he said.
“There are a number of things (Gov. Brown) vetoed that I would not have vetoed, and there are a number of things that I want that haven’t been done,” he later told The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff.
This year, Brown nixed legislation that would have limited the number of long guns a person can buy within the same month. He also vetoed a bill that would have expanded the number of people who can petition the court to have guns removed from someone they believe to be dangerous.
Though Newsom will not be sworn in until January, he is currently serving as acting governor, as Gov. Brown is on a trip to Texas. After a 28-year-old gunman with a high-capacity magazine shot and killed 13 people, including a sheriff’s sergeant, at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Ventura County, Newsom ordered the state’s flag flown at half-staff.
Newsom also declared a state of emergency in Butte County, where the Camp Fire has spread across 18,000 acres prompting mandatory evacuations in the town of Paradise. Meanwhile, as Santa Ana winds whipped Southern California, a second massive fire—also in Ventura County—erupted, prompting mandatory evacuations and closing portions of U.S. 101.
With the notable exception of Mike Curb, who used a gubernatorial absence to appoint some Republican judges during Gov. Brown’s first stint in the governor’s office, California lieutenant governors have rarely used the role of acting governor to take much actual action. (In 2013, Newsom boldly made the avocado California’s state fruit while Brown was away). But with Newsom’s double-digit electoral victory over John Cox on Tuesday, he now seems to be giving the position a test drive.
“I am humbled by this responsibility,” Newsom said of this week’s election results, in which he defeated Republican John Cox by what is likely to be a margin of roughly 20 percentage points. “And boy, was that underscored in the last 24 hours.”
Newsom also used the press conference as an opportunity to talk about housing, reiterating many of the same policy positions he has outlined on the campaign trail.
He reiterated his support for policies that would encourage denser development around public transportation infrastructure (though earlier this year he declined to support a bill by San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have forced cities to accept taller buildings around bus and metro stops).
Responding to the failure of Proposition 10, which would have repealed statewide restrictions on local rent control ordinances, he expressed “a real commitment, not a passing interest, to help lead in (the) effort” to find a legislative compromise. Newsom opposed Prop. 10.
He also called for a more regional approach to addressing homelessness, decrying cities “that are not carrying their weight” while allowing big cities to shoulder the fiscal and administrative costs of providing services and housing to those most in need.
“They need to do more and they need to be held to account,” he said, though he did not specify exactly how.
On the campaign trail, Newsom has discussed the possibility of conditioning state transportation funding to local governments on each city’s willingness to meet statewide housing goals. He alluded to a policy proposal today: “You’re going to hear a lot more from me about housing and transportation because I see the two as the same.”
He also promised to say more in coming days about who would serve in his administration. But he offered no additional details.